Environment, Space, Place

Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2009

Shane J. Ralston
Pages 189-204

The Ebb and Flow of Primary and Secondary Experience
Kayak Touring and John Dewey’s Metaphysics of Experience

John Dewey’s metaphysics of experience has been criticized by a number of philosophers—most notably, George Santayana and Richard Rorty. While mainstream Dewey scholars agree that these critical treatments fail to treat the American Pragmatist’s theory of what exists on its own terms, there has still been some difficulty reaching consensus on what the casual reader should take away from the pages of Experience and Nature, Dewey’s seminal work on naturalistic metaphysics. So, how do we unearth the significance of Dewey’s misunderstood metaphysics? One way is for philosophers to look to spatial and socialcultural geographers for help. To fully grasp the movement of experience, these geographers recommend that we start with an experiential activity, such as touring. The activity of sea kayak touring, I contend, discloses the general movement of experience in Dewey’s metaphysics between its primary and secondary phases. With this illustration and a closely connected metaphor, I demonstrate that Dewey’s naturalized metaphysics can not only withstand the objections of the likes of Santayana and Rorty, it can also assist us in gaining a deeper appreciation of the qualitative richness of our own day-to-day practices.